Playing with her baby dolls is Eleanor's favorite thing to do. She likes undressing them and giving them pretend baths in her play kitchen sink. She uses her doll brush to make their hair pretty. She wraps them in old receiving blankets and rocks them to sleep. They take turns sitting on her potty chair and making pretend tinkles. Nothing is funnier than seeing her lay her baby down on a prefold diaper and watching her carefully attempt to attach it with a Snappi! Her babies also enjoy horse back rides through the house on her shoulders while she yells, "Yee haw!"
Dolly goes with us on car rides to get Daddy and the boys or shopping at the grocery store. Sometimes she takes Dolly for a walk in the stroller, with her purse hooked on her arm, cell phone and keys tucked inside, and a wave "Bye bye, Mama. I goin' shoppin'" Other times she snuggles them in her doll sling for a trip around the yard.
Recently, she discovered a new way to play with Dolly. I've been babysitting in the two-year-old room for the local MOPs group. Usually, we have about 5-6 girls and one or two boys in the room. Luckily, there are plenty of baby dolls for all the girls to have one. They work on taking turns pushing the dolls in the two strollers or on the one swing. They cook up snacks for their dolls in the play kitchen and they remark on their stinky diapers. But there's a new toy for Ella to use with her dolls at MOPs that she hasn't had at home. Doll bottles filled with fake milk or orange juice. It didn't take long at all for Ella to follow the other girls' lead in feeding and burping the dolls with bottles. After a couple of times at MOPs, Ella was quick to secure one of the three bottles for her baby to use each session. I sat back and watched her holding and bottle feeding her baby. So odd to see from a girl that never had a bottle or pacifier!
I didn't make a big deal about it at MOPs and figured it doesn't mean much, she only plays with them there. At home, she tends to nurse her babies or uses the little cups from her tea set to give them drinks of "water". Lately, however, she's been wanting a bottle for her Dolly. She found a small bottle of cleaning fluid Doug uses for his guitars, I think, that has a pointy tip like a bottle on the cap. Instantly, Ella began using it to feed her baby. Then Aidan decided to wash out a small chocolate milk bottle, removed the label, and gave that to Ella to use as a bottle. I had to take the cleaning bottle away from her because I was worried about her getting it open.
I am starting to see how important she thinks a bottle is to her favorite form of play.
Most people wouldn't think twice about whether or not a child played with a bottle and a doll. To me, it matters. I've consciously avoided bottles and bottle imagery in reference to children and babies for many years. I actively avoid baby congratulations cards or wrapping paper with bottles and pacifiers. I feel like it sets up bottle feeding as the norm in baby care instead of as a secondary tool. It's very important to me that my children are raised to believe that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby. I want them to see bottles as just a tool to feed babies when mother is not available. I think it shapes them for how they will parent in the future. I want my son supportive of his partner breastfeeding and I want my daughter confident in her ability to breastfeed her children, should they have them.
Doug isn't on the same page as me regarding toy bottles. Maybe because we bottle fed expressed milk to Sean in addition to nursing. Maybe because he thinks I'm just making too big of a deal of it. Maybe he's right. Or maybe I am.
Right now, I am confident that she does know what breastfeeding is and how it helps babies. While playing dolls with the other girls at MOPs, Ella's doll fell out of the swing. She exclaimed, "Oh no! Baby hurt!" ran around the swing to pick up her doll, immediately lifted her shirt and held her doll to her chest. "Baby needs Ni-Ni!" she said, while kissing her doll on her head, in full view of all of her friends.
While the bottles may be a fun way for her to give Dolly a drink, breastfeeding is what Dolly needs for comfort. Maybe Santa will put a toy bottle in her Christmas stocking after all.